Middleton doesn’t expect it to be a problem, though the Milwaukee Bucks star added he and Booker haven’t spoken at all during the first five games of the series.
“Right now, we haven’t said a word to each other,” Middleton said.
While things could get awkward initially, the trio of Olympians are respected professionals expected to play a vital role in Team USA’s quest for gold in the men’s Olympic basketball tournament.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Middleton said. “I’m sure we won’t be best buddies during Team USA, but we’ll be teammates, for sure. We’ll be on the same path, talking basketball X’s and O’s, trying to get the job done.”
Booker plans to fly on the “next thing smoking” to Tokyo when the NBA Finals ends. He’s averaging an impressive 30 points per game, but coughed up the ball to Holiday in the dying seconds of Phoenix’s Game 5 loss. Still, he echoed the sentiments of Middleton when describing the upcoming relationship shift.
“It’s never personal between who you’re going with, unless lines are crossed,” he said. “Those guys aren’t that type and I would never go that way with them, because there’s a high respect level for each other. I think that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in right now. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level.”
Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson became teammates with Kyrie Irving after the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, but the stars had more time apart between Game 7 and the Rio Olympics.
The late start to the 2020-21 season meant there would be a quick turnaround for players deep in the postseason who opted to participate in the Tokyo Games.
That didn’t bother Holiday.
“I felt like I just wasn’t going to stop playing,” he said. “Just continue playing basketball, which is what I love to do. Not having a break and just feeling like, ‘Well, we’re in the Finals, why not just continue playing basketball.”
Phoenix and Milwaukee will face off in Game 6 on Tuesday, with a potential Game 7 scheduled for Thursday. Team USA is set to begin preliminary play against France on Sunday.